Point Reyes National Seashore is a wonderful nature haven, located 30 miles North of San Francisco on the west coast of California. The diversity of the area and its dramatic scenery make Point Reyes an absolute must-visit for any nature enthusiasts. We spent 4 days at Point Reyes and loved it.
Point Reyes wasn’t on our original itinerary, as we had planned to go to Yosemite. However, the national park was closed due to the extensive forest fires in the area. A rapid change of plan was needed and before long we’d booked 4 days at Point Reyes.
Read our travel guide to find out how we spent 4 days at Point Reyes. Get information on the Bear Valley Visitor Centre and discover our best hikes at Point Reyes.
Explore the Bear Valley Visitor Centre
With its dramatic scenery, rugged coastlines and beautiful beaches, Point Reyes is the perfect destination for anyone who likes the great outdoors. If you want to find out the best things to do at Point Reyes, you should start your visit at the Bear Valley Visitor Centre.
Once here, the rangers can provide a map, information about the park and its best hiking trails. Inside the centre, children can explore the exhibits and learn about the diverse ecosystems and cultural heritage of the park.
Outside we were able to climb some big trees (kids only) and start with some very family-friendly trails: –
The Earthquake Trail– This is a simple, circular walk covering 0.6 miles. Its highlight is that it actually crosses the San Andreas Fault. Along the route the interpretive signs give easy-to-read facts about the fault, the 1906 earthquake and the geology of the region.
Did you know that the great earthquake actually moved the peninsular of Point Reyes 18 feet to the North!
The Woodpecker Trail – Opposite is this 0.7-mile circular trail which follows through fields and local forest.
The Kule Loklo Trail is another short trail at the Visitor Centre which leads to a replica of a Coast Miwok Indian Village, which the children can explore. The trailside exhibits describe the history and traditions of the Coast Miwok people, who lived in the area before the Europeans arrived.
Become a Junior Ranger
At the Visitor Centre, we enrolled the children on the Junior Ranger Programme. This gave them a workbook with animals and wildlife to spot during their visit to Point Reyes.
Don’t to forget to go back after you have completed your trails to collect your ranger signature. The ranger will then swear the children in as a Junior Ranger and award them a badge.
Top tip: If you are going to any of the National Parks, including Grand Canyon, you can sign up and earn a different badge.
Take a hike
Point Reyes is an absolute paradise for hiking. There are about 150 miles of well-maintained, sign-posted trails that cross forest, coast and valleys and offer unmatched scenery. These are the hikes that we tried:-
This is a 5-mile loop trail near Inverness that takes you down to Limantour Beach, a long stretch of sandy beach. We parked just along from the Point Reyes Hostel. Then, we picked up the Laguna Trailhead, taking the right fork just before the bridge.
Eventually, we arrived at the beach, where we stopped for a picnic. After our break, we carried on along the beautiful sandy beach. We headed west, before turning back inland to the return loop, which brought us back up to the hostel.
It is a relatively easy hike, across grassland and the beach.
Estero Trail to Drakes Head
One of our favourite hiking trails in Point Reyes was the Estero trail, which goes to Drakes Head. This was a fairly long trail (9 miles) which started through grassland and then up onto the headlands. However, it was worth the effort, as it offers beautiful vistas of the Point Reyes coast and hills.
Although a fairly long walk for children, the boys loved this trail. For them it was all about the wildlife. A snake, cows, birds and the highlight of the day – 3 leopard sharks. This made it all worth it.
Chill at the beach
Point Reyes has 80 miles of shoreline, so there are plenty of beaches. One of our favourite coastal walks was down to Heart’s Desire Beach. This is a sandy, surf-free beach, so is safe for playing and swimming and there are picnic and toilet facilities.
There is a car park at the beach, but if you are feeling like another beautiful walk, you can park at the car park at Pierco Point Road (at the join with Shallow Beach) and walk down the Jepsen Trail.
Top tip: It is a nice, gentle, downward walk on the way there, but this means it’s an upward struggle on the way back. Do what I did and send your husband to get the car!
Visit Point Reyes lighthouse
They built the lighthouse at Point Reyes in 1870 to protect ships travelling past the headlands. Last year they started a large restoration project. It’s been closed all year, though we did walk out some way to take a look. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is due to re-open at the start of 2020.
Be captivated by the wildlife
One of the best places to see wildlife at Point Reyes is at Chimney Rock.
It is worth a visit here when you are going to Point Reyes Lighthouse, as it is on the opposite side of the peninsula. If you take the St Francis Drake Blvd, you can access Chimney Rock Road which leads to the trailhead.
From here, it is is a 1.75-mile round trip along the coastal headland to Chimney Rock. If you look down, you can see the Historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station, which was first built in 1889.
If you double back on the coastal path, you will arrive at Elephant Seal Overlook. As the name suggests, this is a great viewpont for spotting elephant seals down on the beach.
As well as the seals, this short hike gives you dramatic views of the rugged coastline and Drakes Bay. There are also plenty of sea birds to spot, so if you have binoculars, be sure to bring them.
During our visit to Point Reyes, we also saw lots of wild elk, snakes, lizards and a racoon. There is an abundance of natural beauty, much of which is a product of the earthquakes.
Practical advice for Point Reyes
How to get from San Francisco to Point Reyes
It is about 43 miles from San Francisco to Point Reyes and takes just over an hour by car. We took the scenic Highway 1 and arrived in Point Reyes via Sir Frances Drake Boulevard.
Top tip: Make sure you have plenty of petrol, as gas stations are far and few between.
Accommodation at Point Reyes
There are lots of holiday homes to rent at Point Reyes. We stayed at the characterful “Hideaway in the Woods” in Inverness, which we booked through Airbnb. We had the whole of the top floor of this charming, rustic place and received daily visits from local deer to the garden.
Hiking at Point Reyes
Take lots of water and snacks. The routes are fairly remote and there is nowhere to fill up on the way. Take lots of water and expect to take an al fresco wee on the way.
Eating at Point Reyes
There are a few small shops on Point Reyes, but they have little choice and rather pricey. It is worth stopping at the supermarket in Tamalpais to stock up before you get to this park. This is really useful if you are making picnics every day.
We did go out to eat at the Fog’s Kitchen on Tomales Bay. We bought lunch at the Inverness Park Market (which we cheekily ate in the garden of Tap Room Market).
The climate at Point Reyes
The weather at Point Reyes was unpredictable when we were there. It was predominantly sunny, but we felt cold when the fog came in. Our visit to Point Reyes Lighthouse was in the early morning and was bitterly cold with a thick fog.
Whilst our best layed plans to go to Yosemite were thwarted by the terrible wild fires, we were delighted to discover Point Reyes and its amazing trails and wildlife.
PIN FOR LATER: 4 days at Point Reyes, California